Department of Family Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

TTY 711

12011 Government Center Parkway, Pennino Building
Fairfax, VA 22035

Michael A. Becketts,

Safety Planning with Children During an Emergency

(Posted 2020 June)

When you live with a partner who threatens your safety, you are probably concerned about your child’s safety, too. You are the best judge of how to talk to your child so you will not put yourself in more danger and they will feel safe and prepared.  It’s best to plan for safety with your children before an emergency.

It could be upsetting for children to know they are planning for when a parent/caregiver becomes violent, so talking to them about planning for an “emergency” may be less upsetting.  Just like fire drills help prepare, talking to children when things are calm will help you know what to do when things are stressful. This advance talk should also include what would help them feel safe after the emergency ends.

Things to consider when safety planning with a child:
  • Has your child safety planned in the past? Have they wanted to call 911, or taken their younger siblings somewhere safe?
  • Be sure they know how and when to call 911, including for a fire or medical emergency.
  • Create a code word that signals when to get help or to know that you are OK.
  • Tell them the violence is not their fault and they should only call for help if they want to do so. It is not their job to get in the middle of violence or stop it.
Safety planning with your child to prepare for a violent incident:
  • Find safe places for the child to go. Stay away from rooms with only one entrance or with items that can be used as weapons. 
  • Identify a trusted neighbor for them to call. 
  • Help your child practice calling 911 and saying their address and phone number.
  • Teach them to take deep breaths from their belly when they feel upset.
  • Find videos, games, or music they can play, or a special stuffed animal or toy they can hold when they are scared.
Reconnecting with children after a crisis:
  • parent and child sitting outside on grassRe-establish physical and emotional safety for the child
    • Tell them you are going to do everything you can to keep them safe. Do not make promises you may not be able to keep.
    • If it’s safe to do so, connect your child with a trusted adult or counselor to talk to about their feelings.
    • Ask children if they want to be held or if they want to be physically closer to you.
    • Do familiar things together, like singing a song, reading a book or another calming activity.
  • Let your child express their feelings.
    • Ask them how they felt during the emergency. Use questions that don’t require a yes or no answer. Let them know all their feelings are real and important.
    • They might need help naming feelings. Suggest simple emotions like sad, worried, scared or angry.
    • Let them know it’s important to find safe ways to show emotions, like punching a pillow or drawing a picture of their feelings.
  • Reconnect with your child.
    • Focus on activities that help them stay in the current moment:
      • Go for a walk while playing a game of “I Spy.” 
      • Have a dance party—with or without music--to burn some energy.
      • Make a favorite meal, food or snack together.
    • If it’s safe, connect with family or friends electronically. 
    • Use rituals or routines that provide comfort and stability.

If you would like to speak to someone who can help you think about safety planning with your children, please call the Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline: 703-360-7273. A trained advocate will be able to assist you.

Learn more about the Department of Family Services' Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

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